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American Dream vs American Reality

In: Historical Events

Submitted By ericasuess
Words 1651
Pages 7
An essential part of American identity is the assurance that our children can inherit a greater quality of life than we were subjected to. James Truslow popularized the phrase “American Dream” in his book Epic of America, published in 1931. Truslow stated that the American Dream is, “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement… [A] dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” In essence, the American Dream is the philosophy of upward mobility. It is the opportunity to make individual choices without being limited by class, religion, race, or ethnicity. Since it’s origin, this idea of the American Dream has not coincided with the American reality shown through the segregation of class, race and ethnicity, unhappiness in the home, and the failure of public education. Immigrants during the Industrial Revolution were exposed to unjust treatment and stifled growth in society, women in the 1950s faced an identity crisis spawning from the materialized idea of perfection, and at the turn of the century public education showed poor performance on the worldwide scale. The industrial revolution marked a turning point in the history of the United States of America, impacting every aspect of daily life and making America a player on the world stage. Readily available resources, technological innovations, and lowered costs of transportation led to rapid industrialization. The industrial revolution was founded on rising investment, employment and productivity in the manufacturing sector. Along with industrialization came urbanization and the natural influx of immigration. This became known as the “new immigration”. Poles, Italians, Scandinavians and eastern European Jews migrated to the United States in search for job opportunities created by the rapid industrialization. The “new immigration” was caused by two factors known as the push and pull factors. Many of the immigrants coming from Europe faced religious persecution, political repression, and extremely poor economic conditions leading to poverty and starvation, this served as the “push” factor. The “pull” factor was this idea of the American Dream. To immigrants, the United States appeared to be a land with a surplus of wealth and job opportunities – the Land of Promise. Stories of the successes of immigrants would make it back to their homelands creating a deeper desire to travel to the United States, causing a snowball effect. Unfortunately for the immigrants they were faced with more hardship than they original anticipated. They were exposed to the worst working conditions in U.S. history and not much better living conditions. The shift from agriculture to urban factories and offices offered manufacturing employment opportunities for immigrants. This was the largest increase in the production of metals and machinery in history but this manufacturing growth relied heavily on immigrant labor. Factory work for immigrants entailed working long hours, usually twelve-hour days with very low wages. It was even reported that many children were accustomed to working from 4 A.M. to 10 P.M. In the workforce they had no rights and their employer had complete control over them. The only thing an immigrant could do in order to stand up to his or her employer was to quit but because of the high demand for work, someone would be easily replaced and business would go on like normal. Because of this high turnover rate many immigrants took the bad working conditions and low wages in order to merely survive. Living conditions for immigrants were not much better than their working conditions. Immigrants lived in what is known as tenement houses. These were narrow, low-rise apartment building that were cramped, poorly lit and lacked indoor plumbing and proper ventilation. By 1900, 80,000 tenements were built in New York City, which housed 2.3 million people. If you do that math you would have about roughly 29 people per tenement. Tenements were the only option for immigrants because their low wages never allowed them to accumulate enough money to move elsewhere. Many immigrants didn’t care how poor their quality of life was in the short-term as long as they believed it would benefit their life in the long-term. It was clear that through the industrial revolution immigrants entering the United States had high expectations for themselves and their families but the American reality did not live up to the expectation of the American Dream. Individuals who have seemingly achieved the materialistic idea of the American Dream give the appearance of perfection. In many of those cases their lives are not as ideal as they seem. In the 1950s the “happy” suburban housewife was not as happy as she appeared to be. After WWII societies attempt to return to normalcy directed middle and upper class women back into the home. From this came the idealized image of the happy housewife that was widely accepted as a women’s best option in life. This growing divide in gender roles led to a growing dissatisfaction among women during the 1950s. The women in the time period were subjected to an identity crisis due to a lack of higher educational opportunities, their life revolving around the desires of their husband and children, and their constant search for social acceptance. Many women didn’t attend college because society stressed the importance of becoming a wife and mother. In the case that a woman did go to college it was with the overarching goal of finding a husband. Outside of education in the traditional sense, “finishing school” was available for women so they could properly learn how to be a successful housewife and mother. This lack of opportunities educationally led women to feel as though their talents were going unrecognized. In terms of day-to-day living, women in the 1950s were enveloped in the idea of living for the needs of their husband and children. Mothers of the 1950s were raised during the Depression, thus creating a great desire to make their children’s lives as stress-free as possible. This image was reinforced in the media by advertisements that depicted women in the kitchen, conversing with children, serving dinner, or cleaning. The stereotype of women as purely domestic creatures led to a feeling of being trapped and discontent with the state of their lives. During this time period the phrase, “keeping up with the Joneses’” was coined referring to the practice of buying items to impress neighbors or increase social standing, rather than from a desire for the items themselves. Suburban housewives became obsessed with maintaining social standing and searching for social acceptance. Women found the majority of their worth from the praises of others in their social circle. The “happy suburban housewife” was depicted as just that, happy, when in reality these women were struggling with depression and a lack of self-worth. The lack of individualism and opportunities created an identity crisis because these women were conflicted about what that wanted from life and what society was telling them they should want. As these women attempted to fall in line with what they believed to be the American Dream they faced the reality that the American Dream wasn’t so perfect after all. One essential part of the American identity is the right to education. Public education has dominated the culture of education in America as primary or secondary schools that are mandated to all children for free, funded by taxes. Although this is believed to be a basic aspect of life, American students do not possess the communication and computational skills they need today to succeed in college or in the working world. The government’s failure to invest in education threatens the long-term competitiveness of the American economy. A report by the University of Chicago titled “Left behind in America: The Nations Dropout Crisis” reports on the educational performance in the United States. It states that, “nearly 6.2 million students in the U.S. between the ages of 16 and 24 in 2007 dropped out of high school… [and] America’s graduation rate had fallen to 21st out of 27 industrialized countries”. Once leaving the public education system many children are not adequately prepared for higher education or the workforce. Curriculum is not thorough or strenuous enough to give American students a head start. The failure of American public schools denies children the basic skills that are needed in order to excel in life. There must be a refocus of the national conversation back towards the promise of upward mobility. America’s inability to provide quality education will cause a divide between the permanent underclass that is at a disadvantage to the rest of society. Thomas Wolfe said, "…to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity…. the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him." Since the origin of the phrase “American Dream” in 1931, upward mobility has been the essence and this was the idea in which the United States was founded. However, the American Dream does not coincide with the American reality. Immigrants during the Industrial Revolution were unable to immerse in American society due to segregation of class, race and ethnicity. Women during the 1950s appeared to be living the idealized American Dream when in reality they felt trapped and discontent. In addition, the current state of the public education system has showed major flaws in shaping young Americans into productive and active members of society due to inadequate curriculum and poor performance. The greatly sought after American Dream has proved to show major flaws. The American reality does not live up to the expectations of the American Dream.

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